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    From a High Place

    Lying in (up)state

    An NYPD cop returns to his hometown in upstate New York after years away to bury his mother, investigate a murder and confront some family secrets in the unconvincing "From a High Place."


    A crumpled body is found at the bottom of a cliff. All we see as the movie opens is a corpse-eye view of the faces of the rural marshal and his assistant. Against a crisp blue sky, they coolly note the particulars of the grisly find.

    Written and directed by: Ken Richardson.
    Cast: John Littlefield, Camilia Sanes, Elizabeth Askue, William Spindler, Camilla Enders, Jim Gaffigan, Christopher Reade Mattox, Jeffrey Miller, Pamela Geuss, Ken Richardson.
    This almost "Fargo"-like opening scene is worth mentioning because it's unfortunately the most interesting scene in the movie. The rest of the story goes like this: A New York City cop (John Littlefield) with a murky past returns to his upstate hometown to join his family for his estranged mother's funeral. While there, he is enlisted to help investigate the mysterious death at the cliff, little suspecting that he will unearth a number of shocking family secrets.

    This sounds like a pretty good setup, but the story is somehow told with as little drama as possible. The actors — several of whom are soap-opera veterans — pace themselves as if they need to drag the story line out over a month, not an hour and a half. They work through daytime-drama issues from illness to infertility, from confused parentage to women's liberation, but the voices are kept down and the emotions are kept under wraps.

    From a High Place  
    On top of that, the music seems calculated to signal naptime anytime you start to get interested in the whodunit. The whole effect — augmented by the obvious commercial breaks — is that "From a High Place" is really intended as a TV movie for one of the milder channels, which might be the best place to see it.

    One actor worth watching, though, is Jim Gaffigan as Marshal Eph Williams (coincidentally the only character not named something bland like Steven, Susan, Mary or Alan). Gaffigan, a standup comedian who also has a small role in the current "Three Kings," combines a husky strength with a slight confusion, like Mitch Pileggi from "The X-Files" plus Philip Seymour Hoffman, the ex-boyfriend from "Next Stop Wonderland." He gives his slightly weathered, fur-hat-wearing marshal more of a sense of authenticity and complexity than his prettier castmates can pull off.

    OCTOBER 6, 1999

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